First things first, what is cardiometabolic health? Cardiometabolic health is just a fancy way of saying overall heart health. To be more direct, it is the combination of heart and metabolic health. Examples of cardiometabolic diseases would be heart disease, diabetes, and renal failure. Now that we know what cardiometabolic health is, how do we improve and optimize cardiometabolic health? Let’s take a look at some stats on the subject and go from there.

According to recent research, as few as 7% of Americans are considered to be in optimal cardiometabolic health. In this research, the Americans sampled were evaluated with five criteria for optimal health. These criteria included:

  • blood pressure
  • blood sugar
  • fat percentage and weight
  • blood cholesterol
  • whether they had any heart-related disease

Out of the 55,000 people studied, only 6.8% were optimal across the criteria researched. This means only 1 in 15 adults has optimal cardiometabolic health. Since the U.S. is a wealthy first-world country, these numbers are not great. The research highlights a growing problem in the U.S., a health crisis.

Is there really a cardiometabolic health crisis?

If you have ever gone on a Netflix binge, you’ll notice there are plenty of fringe documentaries on food and health issues. There is a reason there are so many of them; there is a growing health crisis in the U.S. These health issues will vary in severity depending on age, socioeconomic status, and race/ethnicity. Minorities such as Hispanics and African-Americans experience declining health compared to White Americans. This is potentially due to differences in access to healthcare, healthier food options, economic standing, education level, and other larger societal contexts.

However, the purpose of this article is not to dissect the political and societal pot-holes that exacerbate the health crisis, but rather to highlight the importance of taking preventative measures to avoid becoming a statistic. With that being said, what can we do as individuals to give ourselves the best chance to optimize our cardiometabolic health? What do we need to do to lower our risk of developing diseases such as heart disease and diabetes?

Let’s talk prevention of cardiometabolic health issues.

For those reading this without any medical background, there are three types of prevention: secondary, primary, and primordial. Each of these has a place in optimizing cardiometabolic health. What makes each one distinct from the other is the timetable and the effects of implementing each one when you do.

Secondary prevention

This is enacted after a health issue has already occurred. Let’s say you had a stroke. Your doctor prescribes you medication and gives you a list of lifestyle changes you need to make to reduce the risk of a stroke occurring again. This is secondary prevention. The goal is to prevent the stroke from happening again by making changes.

Primary prevention

This is enacted before the first stroke. The goal here is to prevent an at-risk individual from having the first occurrence. So let’s say you go see your doctor for a check-up and he/she determines you are at risk for stroke. To prevent that first stroke, they look into setting you up with a medication to mitigate risk and give you a list of lifestyle changes you need to make to further reduce the risk of a first stroke. That is primary prevention. You are getting the same treatment as secondary, but the aim is to prevent the first stroke from occurring rather than prevent the next stroke from occurring.

Primordial prevention

This is enacted before the risk factors are determined to exist. Let’s look at the stroke example again. Primordial prevention involves working to prevent the symptoms that give rise to risk factors from developing, to begin with. For example, a few risk factors associated with stroke are high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and high lipids. Primordial prevention would be implementing lifestyle changes to prevent the development of these risk factors. So if you are healthy right now but your lifestyle could lead to the development of risk factors, you would make changes now to stay healthy and further reduce the chance risk factors such as high blood pressure could occur. The goal here is to enact changes and healthy choices as soon as possible-ideally in childhood.

Which prevention is best for cardiometabolic health?

When it comes to cardiometabolic health and health in general, the sooner you make the changes needed to stay healthy the better. Ideally, we all implemented primordial prevention as children and are all in optimal health. However, the research we discussed at the beginning of the article tells us this is not the case for the majority of Americans. For most of us, we are left with primary or secondary prevention. Hopefully, none of you have suffered a heart attack or stroke just yet. Regardless, we can all implement the same lifestyle changes necessary to either prevent the first health concern from appearing or at least greatly reduce the risk of another cardiometabolic health issue from arising.

So how do we do it? What are the steps to take to improve your cardiometabolic health? The list below will not be all-inclusive, but it will contain the biggest changes you can make today to improve your cardiometabolic health and reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, renal failure, and other associated diseases.

The 5 ways to improve cardiometabolic health

Like I said already, this list is far from exhaustive, but it is a good starting place for most to make changes today. With that being said, here are five things you can start doing immediately that will improve your cardiometabolic health.

1. Choosing a healthier diet.

There is no shortage of research finding links between food and disease. Certain nutrients are linked to the development or prevention of diseases. However, for the purpose of this article, not all of this is important for you. What you need to take away is the best diet for preventing cardiometabolic health problems is a diet full of fruits and veggies. Furthermore, your diet should contain whole grains, nuts, seeds, fish, and poultry. You want to avoid excessive amounts of alcohol, red meat, processed meats, refined carbohydrates, added sugars, sodium, and trans fats. Pay attention to the label on the foods you buy. A good rule of thumb would be if you can hunt it or gather it in the wild, it is likely a good food choice.

As a last note on food, remember to take into consideration food allergies, dietary preferences, and individual tastes. There are plenty of options that fit these basic parameters while still adhering to your preferences. Do your homework and find food choices that fit your individual tastes while still being good for you.

2. Exercise.

As most of you probably know, exercise is a great way to prevent cardiometabolic health problems such as heart disease. Unfortunately, many of us exercise less as we get older. With this drop in activity level, we see a rise in risk factors such as high blood pressure. Exercise not only lowers the risk of cardiometabolic health problems but also does things like: improve sleep, lower blood pressure, boost mood, and keep weight in check.

The best part of exercise is that you do not have to kill yourself in the gym for hours on end to see the health benefits. As little as 20 minutes of brisk walking a day or 30 minutes for five days a week can improve your overall health. You can obviously do more, but the point here is that movement is medicine. Some activity is better than none, so set aside a few minutes each day and start moving more.

3. Drop your bad habits.

I’m lumping smoking and drinking here, but the focus is smoking. Drinking alcohol is definitely not a habit you want to be doing excessively, but in moderation, some alcohol such as red wine can have health benefits. On the other hand, smoking has no benefit to your health. Smoking tobacco is incredibly addictive and can not only increase your risk of developing cardiometabolic health problems but is also a financial pain costing on average around $2,300/year per person smoking one pack a day. Studies show that smoking contributed to approximately 64% of deaths of current smokers and up to 28% of deaths of former smokers. Smoking is also a well-documented contributor to heart disease, so it is in your best interest to stop smoking as soon as possible if you are a smoker. Some helpful tips for kicking the habit include:

  • nicotine replacement therapy (nasal spray or nicotine patches)
  • avoid triggers you associate with smoking
  • chew gum or do something with your mouth to avoid smoking
  • exercise
  • find a support group

Find ways to stop smoking if the habit is hard to kick. Your health will thank you.

4. Get better sleep.

Sleep is an underrated and essential component of your overall health. Sleep has been shown to be a vital piece of your cardiometabolic health. Getting sleep is a lot like the goldilocks and the three bears story-too much sleep is bad and too little sleep is bad, so we must find the duration that is just right. Unfortunately, everyone is different and had different physiological needs. However, a good rule of thumb to start with is 7-8 hours of sleep. Some people will need less and others will need more, but this is a good duration to work with.

Sleeping habits that make or break a good night’s rest include:

  • setting a sleep schedule
  • a bedtime routine such as yoga or meditation to relax before bed
  • limiting screen time before bed
  • avoiding caffeine
  • avoiding alcohol

Getting a good night’s rest can make or break your cardiometabolic health in the long run, so if you are experiencing restlessness or sleep issues, implement these tips above. Go talk to your doctor if sleep issues continue to endure or get worse.

5. Get your nitric oxide levels up.

Of course, we had to bring up nitric oxide (NO). Nitric oxide is the vasodilator that lowers blood pressure, prevents plaque buildup, prevents blot clots from occurring, and improves blood circulation throughout the body. Because of these benefits, NO is vital to optimizing cardiometabolic health. If you want to make sure you stay as healthy as you can, make sure your NO levels are optimized. Some things you can do to boost your nitric oxide levels include:

The bottom line on cardiometabolic health

There is plenty more you can do to improve your cardiometabolic health. The steps listed above are great for getting started. Make sure you consult with your doctor if you are at risk or believe you might be at risk for problems such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and other health concerns. Do the things in this article and avoid becoming another statistic.

cardiometabolic health